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    My wife is home, having flown back from a very successful ASCA conference. So proud of her, and love the fact that, after 22 years of marriage, I miss her tremendously when she's gone.

  • More Family News for the Day — Whew!

    And things just keep getting more surrealCongrats, son!

    And in other family-related news, Jill co-hosted a Facebook live discussion today on the second season of "13 Reasons Why" for the American School Counselor Association. To see the video, go here.

    I'm beginning to think "Our Reality Show" is a good name for this blog...

  • Jill Quoted in NY Times on '13 Reasons Why'

    My wife, Jill, is quoted in a New York Times story today on the second season of “13 Reasons Why,” the controversial Netflix series that revolves around a teen’s suicide. You can read the story here or see the relevant paragraphs below.

    At the end of each episode, a character in voice-over directs viewers to 13ReasonsWhy.info, a resources site created by Netflix with guidance from nonprofit groups like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American School Counselor Association.

    “Netflix is taking their responsibility seriously,” said Jill Cook, the assistant director of the American School Counselor Association. (Ms. Cook says the association has no financial relationship to Netflix.)

    Ms. Cook initially contacted Netflix last year to express her organization’s concern that the depiction of adults on the show as clueless — a counselor doesn’t report concerns to the principal, parents have no idea that their kids are having torrid sex upstairs after a school-night family dinner, dads watch DVDs instead of Netflix — would discourage students from seeking help. For the show’s resources site, it helped create the discussion guides, and for its own website it recently posted a template letter that school administrators can send to parents.

  • ASCA Honors Top School Counselor

    The American School Counselor Association, the organization where Jill works, recognized its School Counselor of the Year at the Kennedy Center today. I could not be prouder of the work my wife does on this program, which she helped create and has nurtured for more than a decade.

    Kirsten Perry, who works at Lawndale Community Academy in Chicago, won the 11th annual award. And, in her first major speech since leaving the White House, former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the event for the third consecutive year.

    Mrs. Obama recognized Jill and the ASCA staff at the start of her speech, then focused her remarks on the positives in an uncertain time. Here are a few quotes from the speech:

    "While it was nice to hold this event in the White House last year, this was never about the White House. It was never about me or Barack, and it's never about the handful of people who happen to be in power at any given time. Folks who model decency and dignity and integrity for our kids every single day, see, that's who we are. That more than anything is what shapes our children and that's what makes America great.

    "Trust me, I know this work isn't easy, especially right now. I know there's a lot of anxiety out there. And there's no denying that our kids, what they see on TV, the kind of behavior being modeled in public life — all of that, yes — impacts their behavior and their character. But at times like this the work you are all doing is even more urgent. It's even more critically important. See, you all have the power to teach our kids what it means to go high when others go low. You have that power.

    "Our counselors and educators have a far bigger impact on our kids' lives than any president or first lady. ... You all serve as living, breathing examples of the kind of people they should aspire to be. You don't get dragged down by the headlines, by the false claims about our children and our neighborhoods, you don't have time for that nonsense because you're out there doing the work.

    "No matter what's going on right now, out there, all that noise, you know that our young people are the future, and the most important thing we can do as individuals and as a nation is to believe in all of them, to invest in all of them and to build schools and communities worthy of their boundless promise."

  • 2016 School Counselor of the Year

    First Lady Michelle Obama honored Katherine Pastor of Flagstaff, Ariz., as the 2016 School Counselor of the Year during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House on Thursday. Obama has honored the past two winners of the American School Counselor Association program at a White House ceremony and will host a third event before the administration’s term ends next January.

    Pastor, who works at Flagstaff High School, was introduced by one of her former students, Wyatt Whitegoat, a Navajo Indian who lived in a dorm on campus. Whitegoat is now in his senior year at Cornell College in Iowa, earning degrees in kinesiology and psychology.

    Also speaking at the event was John King, acting secretary of education. Among the attendees: former Duke and NBA basketball player Shane Battier.

    Pastor and the others recognized by their states will conclude several days of events in the nation’s capitol tonight with a banquet at Union Station.

    Note: As many of you know, my wife, Jill, has coordinated this program for ASCA since its inception. The program is one of the largest of the year for the organization, and would not be possible — or as successful — without a total team effort from the entire staff. It was nice (and a bit overwhelming), however, to hear the First Lady give my wife a shout out by name in her speech on Thursday.

    To see more photos from the event, visit my Facebook album here.

  • Jill Featured in Dating Abuse Video

    Jill is featured in this video with Tim Gunn and others discussing domestic violence and teen dating abuse. The video was put together as part of Liz Claiborne’s “A Time to Talk Day,” which was focused on the company’s “Love Is Not Abuse” curriculum available to schools. For more information, go to www.breakthecycle.org.

  • Jill Featured in NBC Story

    Jill is featured in this anti-bullying piece that was produced by NBC News. The piece aired on a number of NBC-owned stations this week.

  • White House Holiday Party

    Thanks to my lovely wife's work with the First Lady's office this year, she received an invitation to the White House holiday party held yesterday afternoon and allowed me to tag along. The photos aren't the best, but the memory is something that won't be forgotten.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.

  • Jill at White House Meeting in San Diego

    Congratulations to Jill, who attended and spoke at a White House convening on ways to strengthen school counseling and college student advising at San Diego State University. Now all she has to do is present the National School Counselor of the Year award and then she comes home!

  • Travel Gods & Mother Nature

    What happens when the travel gods and Mother Nature conspire to do a pre-holiday test run affecting the nation’s airlines? Think of it as taking a stress test while running uphill on a treadmill powered by six gerbils and a ferret.

    Sorry for the visual analogy, but given the adventure my spouse and I have been on over the past 24 hours, I think you’ll understand eventually.

    This morning, after flying to Atlanta Monday and returning Tuesday, Jill had to leave again for an eight-day work trip that includes a stop at the California school counselors association conference, a White House convening on the profession, and the eventual presentation of the 2015 National School Counselor of the Year award.

    Unlike me, my spouse is extremely organized, and she planned the two trips well in advance down to the last detail. Except, when we got to the airport an hour before her departure, she realized she had forgotten her wallet in the bag she took to Atlanta and had left behind at home.

    With an hour before the flight was scheduled to board, I flew back home while Jill nervously waited at the airport. Fortunately no representatives of Virginia's law enforcement community were on the roads at the time, and alternate routes enabled me to get around the work zone cones of shame. I made it home in record time and got the wallet back to her at the airport.

    And … her flight was delayed. So much so, it turns out, that Delta had to book her on another flight to San Diego, with stops in Detroit and Los Angeles. It was little disconcerting, but the idea was that she would still get to San Diego in time for the meeting.

    In Detroit, weather prevented the flight from taking off. On the runway, the pilots had to turn around because the crew already had worked too long to be considered safe, according to federal regulations. So the plane made a U-turn and, more than seven hours after leaving D.C., Jill was able to get on to a flight in Los Angeles, where she arrived at almost 2 a.m. EST — 15 hours after we left our house.

    The good news is that she’s there safe, even though her baggage is MIA. The bad news is that first thing tomorrow, she has to get on another plane so she can finally make it to her destination.

    Good luck with that.

  • Reaching Higher for School Counselors

    Tomorrow, Jill leaves for a White House Convening meeting on school counseling and college admissions, the third in an ongoing series of sessions this year involving First Lady Michelle Obama’s office. 

    Mrs. Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative, which promotes student access to our colleges and universities, has placed a terrific — and much needed — focus on our nation’s school counselors. The profession has evolved greatly since Jill and I met in the mid 1990s, and I’m extremely proud of the role she and the American School Counselor Association have had in leading that evolution.

    If you’re interested in reading more, check out “Not Your Mother’s School Counselor,” an article I wrote on the evolution earlier this year for ASCD. It was made available this week for non-members, and I glad to see that a piece so near and dear to my heart is getting some extra exposure.

  • Our Reality Show 5691 (In Dog Years)

    Why that title, you ask? It feels like it's been that long since I've had a moment to write, even though I've been writing steadily for the past two months. It's just not on Facebook or this blog, which I've made a commitment to keeping up to date.

    However, keeping that commitment has been difficult amid one of the busiest falls I can remember, which is saying something given our ongoing reality show. So to catch you up, here are a few highlights from just the past month in the whirlwind.

    • Jill was gone for nine days during the first three weeks of November, attending meetings in Atlanta and San Diego, a White House convening on school counseling and college admissions at San Diego State University, and then a presentation of the 2015 National School Counselor of the Year Award in Colorado.

    • During that time, Jeremiah was in final rehearsals and starting tech for MSA’s production of “The Nutcracker,” understudying the title role and performing as the Mouse King. Performances were this past weekend.

    • Emma finished her Lake Braddock dance team obligations just in time to jump into — in her words — a “buttload” of schoolwork that would make anyone drown. She also worked on the annual Frosty Follies with Jeremiah and her boyfriend, James. That premieres this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

    • Ben went from the “Newsies” opening in Philadelphia to Cleveland for two weeks and then Louisville. Last night they opened in Pittsburgh and move onto Baltimore next week. After making trips to upstate New York and Connecticut last month, I’m planning to drive Sunday to get him in Pittsburgh (weather permitting).

    • Kate has worked her way through her senior year, doing her studies, part-time job five days a week, and frequent babysitting. Meanwhile, she and a friend have started making plans — and are actively looking — to get an apartment next summer.

    • Nicholas, in the midst of his senior year, performed in his final fall concert with Vital Signs, among myriad other tasks that come with completing your final months in college. He also joined us in Philadelphia for the opening night, along with Ginno.

    Just watching them makes me tired. But in the midst of this, I’ve been reporting, writing and editing on what seems like a 24/7 basis since the middle of September. Freelance is feast or famine, and I've been squirreling away assignments in anticipation of things getting (somewhat) quieter in December and January.

    Clients during that period have been three national education associations (AASA, NASSP, and NSBA), the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and the University of South Florida. I’m also starting work on two stories for ASCD, another client, that are due in mid-December. That does not include three photo shoots for clients, plus the dance team and MSA pictures.

    Recently I saw a sign that read, “This Christmas I want my family and friends to be happy and healthy,” and immediately lowered my expectations a bit. After this busy fall, I just want to survive the fact that all four of my kids have birthdays in December.

  • Jill on Comcast Newsmakers

    Look who is on the front page of the Comcast Newsmakers website. You can see the interview here: http://comcastnewsmakers.com/2014/09/23/school-counselors-2.

  • School Counselors Focus of ASCD Story

    In addition to photography, blogging and consulting, I also write freelance stories for a number of state and national organizations.

    My most recent article is about a subject close to my heart and family: school counselors. The piece, “Not Your Mother’s School Counselor,” is published in the October edition of ASCD’s Education Update.

    The story looks at how three major changes have altered the course of the profession over the past 15 years: a national model that aligns the work of counselors with school improvement efforts; a movement away from direct services to individual students and toward comprehensive schoolwide programs; and the acknowledgement of the counselor’s role in expanding college access for all students.

    As many of you know, my wife Jill works for the American School Counselor Association, and was a huge help in gathering sources for the article, which is now available for purchase from the ASCD website. You can find more information about the story here, and read many of my other 2014 articles by going to the Freelance Articles and Columns section of this website.

    ••••••

    If you’d like to see some of the good work my spouse has been doing on behalf of her profession, check out this Comcast Newsmakers interview she did last month.

  • Jill and the First Lady

    With apologies for the image quality (the low-res photo was taken from Facebook), I had to post this shot of my lovely wife standing to the left of First Lady Michelle Obama at the ASCA conference last month in Orlando.

    Lucky lady, that Mrs. Obama...

  • Vacation: The Final Frontier, Part I

    Our last true family vacation was almost five years ago, when we took a high school junior, a seventh-grader, and two sixth-graders on a cruise to the Caribbean.

    Needless to say, a lot has happened since then.

    The oldest kids, Nicholas and Kate, are seniors in college and high school, respectively. Ben and Emma will be juniors in the fall. In many respects, their lives revolve around their friends, jobs, extracurricular activities, school, and what’s happening on their smart phones. As parents, it sometimes feels like we’ve moved from professional schleppers to the nether regions of “if we need you, we’ll call you.”

    That’s to be expected, I guess. But the transition is not without its bumps.

    We had a few of those bumps earlier this month, when we took our first actual family vacation since the August 2009 cruise. Because the kids’ schedules have revolved around theater, dance, shows, and school, we haven’t had the chance to take a significant period of time for just us as a family with little to nothing to do.

    As you might expect from any family vacation, the wind up to the wind down wasn’t always smooth sailing. But, in the end, it was just the break we all needed.

    ••••••

    Planning for this trip has roots that date back more than a year. On a whim, Jill and I decided to participate in a timeshare presentation in exchange for an extremely good rate at a resort of some kind. Then I was laid off, which pushed things back as we worried about our financial futures (still a concern). We decided to take advantage of the program this past Christmas, but those plans fell through as well due to a variety of issues.

    After seeking another extension, I learned that we could take the vacation in St. Thomas in early July, a few days after Jill’s annual conference in Orlando. We discussed the pros and cons and decided to book the trip in the window between the various dance/musical theater camps, part-time and full-time jobs, and other various and sundry things that come up when you have three active teens and a college student.

    When we started looking at the details, it made sense for us to drive down to Orlando and then fly to St. Thomas from there, given that plane tickets were $350 more per person if we had flown straight. We also could pick up Nicholas in North Carolina, rather than having him meet us either in Virginia, Florida, or somewhere else along the way.

    As we made these arrangements, we decided to rent a van (ours has more than 130,000 miles on it), pay for gas, and possibly a hotel room rather than drive the 950 miles straight. That would not cost nearly the $2,100 that would be required for the extra plane fare.

    We also could use the savings to finally take Emma to Harry Potter World, the closest thing she has to Mecca, and all of the kids to Disney World for a day. Result: We could drop in/drop out of Orlando for a couple of days and check something off the parenting bucket list in one fell swoop.

    But remember, KAOS has set up a home office at our place, complete with Internet access and a fax machine. When we made these plans several months ago, we did not anticipate that Jill would encounter the First Lady of the United States along the way. 

    ••••••

    Several weeks before Jill’s conference, she was asked to present at a White House briefing on college and career readiness issues and how they relate to the school counseling profession. At the end of the briefing came the “ask” — aka what the American School Counselor Association wanted the White House to do.

    Jill’s ask for ASCA was for the First Lady, who is spearheading the initiative that is putting this unprecedented spotlight on the profession, to come to their annual conference in Orlando. To everyone’s surprise, Michelle Obama accepted.

    Despite being a national organization that represents more than 30,000 school counselors, ASCA has a small staff that wears many hats. When the acceptance came in just three weeks before the conference started, things had to be thrown into overdrive to accommodate the White House’s needs.

    Anyone who has ever worked at or even attended a large conference with 2,000 people knows how exhausting it is. Jill and her co-workers usually come home and sleep for 24 hours straight after one ends; with the prep work that everyone had to do beforehand and on site, they were bushed before it even started.

    Originally, rather than be gone from home for two-plus weeks, Jill’s plans were to fly home, sleep, unpack, repack, and then drive back with the family to Orlando. Fortunately, we were able to convince her that we could survive and make the drive without killing each other.

    So, after arming us with a to-do list that bore a striking resemblance to a dead sea scroll, she reluctantly agreed to let us pick her up two days after her conference and board meeting ended.

    After all, what could go wrong?

    ••••••

    In the grand scheme, nothing calamitous occurred, but KAOS did rear its ugly head at times.

    It started shortly after Jill left, when I spent three straight evenings shooting photos at the kids’ dress rehearsals for “Footloose.” This is something I’ve done over the years, but given that my photography business now is intertwined with the Metropolitan School of the Arts, it meant I needed to shoot more than just our kids’ dances.

    With almost 80 different scenes in the hybrid dance recital/musical, that meant a lot of photos — about 1,500 per performance — had to be narrowed down and edited. Ultimately, I ended up posting just over 2,400 to my new online business site, which also was set up over the past month.

    After three nights in the “Footloose cave,” Nicholas and his girlfriend Katherine came up to see the show. We spent a nice afternoon and evening together, and then we had a mini-family reunion (sans Jill) after the first set of performances ended. The next day, they and a host of other friends saw the matinee, but it was still after 11 p.m. when the marathon ended and everyone got home.

    KAOS came into play the next morning, when I discovered that Jeremiah’s flight to a camp in upstate New York was actually 40 minutes earlier than planned. We (literally) flew out of the house and into rush hour traffic, but fortunately everyone was heading south and we made it just in time.

    Much of the week between “Footloose” and the trip was spent working on my advertising consulting job, culling through and editing photos, and finishing a freelance piece in and around addressing the items on the dead sea scroll. As the Fourth of July weekend approached, I could feel myself sputtering to the finish line. I really needed that vacation.

    Our plans were altered slightly — KAOS again — when Nicholas said he did not have to work on the Fourth of July as he had initially thought. This meant renting the van a day earlier, and the reservation I had placed did not allow us to extend without incurring a massive charge. And there was no way that I would drive four kids in a car for 16-plus hours.

    So, 24 hours before we were scheduled to leave, I had to see if our van could be fixed up enough to reliably make it to Orlando and back. An annoying shimmy in the brakes was causing me concern, but we didn’t think that would have to be done until after we returned from vacation. And I knew that bill could be more than the cost of the rental, based on having similar work done last summer.

    After having the oil and transmission fluid changed, I took the van to a local Midas where we had had the work done previously. Fortunately, four hours later, I learned the pads and rotors I had replaced in 2013 were still under warranty by a matter of days.

    They were replaced, and we were on our way. It was going to be roadside fireworks on the Fourth of July.

  • The Joys of Summer

    So let's see what's on tap for the rest of this week: 
    • I have a presentation in Silver Spring to a prospective client tomorrow and a freelance story to complete.
    • Footloose dress rehearsals start tomorrow night for Ben, Emma, and Jeremiah, which means I'm moving with them and my cave into the cave through the weekend.
    • Kate is kid sitting for one of the MSA after-school children this week.
    • Jill leaves Thursday for her annual conference, which happens to feature the First Lady speaking at the closing general session. (And Jill was the point person who secured her appearance!)
    • Nicholas and his girlfriend, Katherine, arrive Saturday to see the Sunday Footloose matinee, which features Ben in the lead, before they head back. Other friends are coming from far and wide to both shows on Sunday as well.
    • Jeremiah leaves on Monday for a three-week camp. After getting him to the airport, I start on the honey-do dead sea scroll to prepare us for yes ... a vacation!

    Hope I make it to the Fourth of July...